Story: David Kvidahl
Photos: Cory Weaver
“Run the Jewels has never done a show without me and hopefully that stays that way forever.”
Gabe Moskoff had no idea what awaited him when he walked into the Ch’rewd Marketing office.
He just knew there would be goodies.
An up-and-coming DJ who immersed himself in the underground St. Louis hip-hop scene, Moskoff’s weekly pilgrimage to Ch’rewd in the early 2000s became a measuring stick for himself.
When he first started showing up they’d slip him whatever leftover promotional records they had. Eventually they began setting aside music just for him.
“That was one of those things when I had my own cubby there, I knew I’d made it to a certain level when I’d show up and there were records for me,” Moskoff said recently over the phone. “I thought ‘I’m getting a little bit of priority, I must be doing something.’”
What he was doing was laying the foundation for a career and a life he never dreamed possible.
Moskoff, now 42, is better known as Trackstar the DJ, the unofficial third member of Run the Jewels with MCs Killer Mike and El-P. It’s a position he’s held since the group’s inception in 2013.
“I’m super thankful that I’ve been able to be the DJ for this outrageously great group that’s been more successful than any of us could have imagined,” Moskoff said. “Run the Jewels has never done a show without me and hopefully that stays that way forever.”
That’s how it’ll be this fall when Run the Jewels goes back on tour to celebrate its 10-year anniversary and the group will be doing something different as it commemorates its first decade. Starting in September and going until the middle of October, Run the Jewels will play four consecutive dates in each of New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles. Each night the group will perform one of its four albums in its entirety as well as other selected tracks.
“There’s a bunch of songs we’ve only played live one or two or three times and there’s one song we’ve never played live. That’ll be exciting to do for the first time,” Moskoff said. “It’s going to be pretty cool. It’s going to be a lot of words to memorize and rememorize but we’re all looking forward to the challenge. We’ve got such an amazing fan base—if we forget the words they’ll remind us.” 2013.
If not for a simple twist of fate there’s little doubt Moskoff would be in that crowd. The way he became Run the Jewels’ DJ is nothing short of wild. The short version is he read an interview with Killer Mike in which the Atlanta MC shared his phone number. As a gag Moskoff called it. Much to his surprise Mike picked up. The two started talking and from that initial conversation formed a friendship that remains to this day. That relationship has taken Moskoff across the country, around the globe and put him on stage with artists he grew up idolizing.
In 1997 he paid to get in when Rage Against the Machine and Wu-Tang Clan toured together.
Last year he was on stage as Run the Jewels did 20 dates with Rage Against the Machine before lead singer Zack de la Rocha tore his Achilles tendon after less than a month. The rest of the 2022 and all of the 2023 tour dates were scratched. “It was pretty incredible to tour with them 25 years later,” Moskoff said.
It was a tour and a pairing that had been in the works for years as Rage and Run the Jewels were set to go hard around the globe for the better part of a two-year tour, starting in the spring of 2020. Final rehearsals were set for mid-March that year in Los Angeles and everyone went their separate ways for a few days before joining forces again to head out on tour.
Moskoff returned to St. Louis where his wife, Camille, and infant daughter, Amina, were getting settled in after recently relocating to be closer to their friends. The hope was there would be a strong support system for Camille and Amina while Moskoff was globetrotting.
Only the tour never got off the ground.
“We were supposed to fly home for two days then go to final rehearsals before the Rage dates started,” Moskoff said. “That was right when COVID hit so they said ‘Go ahead and unpack, we’re not doing that.’”
What was expected to be a brief postponement turned into two years of being a homebody. Moskoff rolled with it. He wasn’t on tour but he was with his family and that was a trade he was happy to make.
“One silver lining was when I was supposed to go on tour Amina would have been one-and-a-half and I’d have been gone from one-and-a-half through three-and-a-half basically. Those are prime years,” Moskoff said. “It was nice to be able to delay that a little bit and get that time. For the better part of two years it was just me, Camille and Amina together 24 hours a day, nothing else. We kept talking about it during the pandemic but I felt really lucky I like my family. Some people don’t seem to like their families as much as I do. Staying in the house all day wasn’t so bad.”
Gabe “Trackstar the DJ” Moskoff with Killer Mike and El-P. Photo: Camille Peace
“We moved back in February of 2020. Three weeks later I was not going on tour and we were not allowed to see all of our wonderful friends,” Moskoff said. “It was an interesting turn of events but it went the way it was supposed to. If the world was going to shut down and our income was going to be slashed at least we moved somewhere cheaper than Southern California.”
Moskoff could live anywhere but St. Louis got into his blood and won’t let him go. Born in Madison, Wis., his interest in rap music began when his sister bought him DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s “He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper” on cassette. A Tribe Called Quest’s “Midnight Marauders” pulled him in deeper.
When he heard “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” as a teenager his relationship with rap music changed forever.
“I have a memory of walking to my friend’s house with my headphones on listening to Enter the Wu-Tang with my jaw just dragging across the sidewalk,” Moskoff said. “It painted this picture to me I hadn’t seen before.”
It was the spark that ignited Moskoff’s passion for rap music. A passion he followed to college. He was looking to get out of Madison to a bigger city and wound up at Washington University in St. Louis.
“The first building I set foot in was the radio station (KWUR) when I came to visit. I was all excited. I looked at the walls of records and they had every record I ever wanted to hear just sitting there looking at me,” Moskoff said. “That’s literally when I decided ‘Oh, I guess I’ll be a DJ because if I become a DJ then this keycard will let me into this studio and I can come in here anytime I want and listen to records.’ That’s how I started DJing, I wanted to listen to those records.”
He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business management in 2003 and stuck around because he’d made connections and relationships in the underground scene. Moskoff couldn’t believe the talent level that was routinely on display in St. Louis. Bits N Pieces and Rockwell Knuckles were among a litany of area artists that inspired Moskoff early on.
“All of these guys, how are these guys not everybody’s favorite rappers? They’re my favorite rappers and they’re right here,” Moskoff said.
Over time he made inroads and became a regular at Blueberry Hill’s The Science Hip-Hop Spin on Fridays and the Hi-Pointe Cafe on Mondays. He was a mainstay at Halo Bar, too. Moskoff was spinning music and selling mixtapes.
Mixtapes he made while delivering food for 569-DINE in what had been his grandmother’s tan 1991 Ford Taurus.
“I was a lunatic. I would drive around with my computer on my passenger seat burning copies of my mixtapes so I’d have copies to sell at the gig that night,” Moskoff said.
Food delivery wasn’t his first choice of jobs out of college. On multiple occasions Moskoff applied to work at Vintage Vinyl—St. Louis’s iconic record store—if only so he could spend his days surrounded by music and get paid for it.
He was rejected every time.
“I was just this music nerd, rap fan. I just wanted to work in a record store. I’d say I’m so thankful that they didn’t hire me,” Moskoff said. “I was really sad about it at the time. If they had hired me I’d probably be very happily still working there. I’d have no idea what I’d missed out on.”
It was in these formative years that Moskoff made a relationship that would alter his trajectory. He linked up with Wes “DJ Solo” Allmond who was the general manager at Ch’rewd Marketing. A St. Louis hip-hop heavyweight, Allmond was a friend to all and a mentor to many. He was 43 when he died in September of 2020. Moskoff was among the select few that attended the funeral due to COVID protocols at the time.
“He was an amazing guy and always looking out for other people, always giving advice, always looking out for opportunities,” Moskoff said. “He’s one of those guys I think a lot of people saw him the way I did, as one of their closest mentors, one of the most important people to their career but not just their career but their path through life. He was a great guy that was always helping people that worked really hard. A lot of people loved him and we miss him.”
There’s no doubt Allmond would have been all about Moskoff’s latest venture. Inspired by his basement full of records, CDs, tapes and other memorabilia, Moskoff wanted to see what gems other collectors may have stashed away in their crates. So he started “Give Up the Goods: A Hip-Hop Swap Meet.” This is on top of his regular Friday night gig on Sirius XM Radio’s “The Smoking Section” and his Rap Fan line of merch.
“I know every other DJ is a hoarder, close to every DJ is a hoarder. We’ve all got our basements full of stuff,” Moskoff said. “I envisioned a big garage sale with a bunch of the homies, excavating their basements and closets and bringing out the cool stuff they have.”
“Give Up the Goods” has had several iterations in St. Louis, its most recent on April 8. In March, Moskoff hosted one in Austin, and it was a hit. There are plans in the works to take the swap meet on the road in the near future.
“Anybody that walks in there is pretty much guaranteed to be into cool shit. That’s been one of the funny revelations, I’ve got more stuff now than when I started the swap meet,” Moskoff said. “It’s been a really great time. We’re definitely going to be doing more out of town ones. Including, maybe, in four different cities this fall. Maybe.”
As rap turns 50 this year no one could have predicted it would take over the world the way it did. Where it’s headed is anyone’s guess. Moskoff has no crystal ball, but as someone who’s been in the game for more than two decades and a fan for nearly three, he’ll be listening and loving it.
“I don’t know where it’s going but I know people are going to keep making dope shit that I want to hear, and I’m going to keep finding it and telling other people about it,” Moskoff said.